November 23, 2022

Youthful PDS Girls’ Soccer Showed Flashes of Brilliance But Ultimately Fell Short of Earning Title Opportunities

GETTING HER KICKS: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Adriana Salzano kicks the ball in recent action. Junior star Salzano scored a team-high 12 goals this fall to spark the PDS attack. The Panthers posted a final record of 12-7, advancing to the Prep B state semifinal and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Non-Public A quarters. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For Chris Pettit, this fall ended up being the “nearly” season for his Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team.

Competing in three postseason tournaments, PDS showed flashes of brilliance but fell short of playing for a title, advancing to the Prep B state semis, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Non-Public A quarters, and losing on a late goal in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals.

While Panther head coach Pettit, whose team ended up with a 12-7 record, would have liked to see his young squad play for a championship, he saw plenty of progress.

“There were a lot of positives,” asserted Pettit. “Shelby [Ruf] did great in goal, we tightened it up defensively and we gave a lot of minutes to our freshmen. We improved in certain areas that we worked on. We didn’t really give up many goals from corners and we scored a lot of corners. Things like that were positives.”

In a 3-2 overtime loss to Rutgers Prep in Prep B semis, PDS produced one of its best efforts of the fall.

“We were winning 2-1 for a good portion of the second half and they scored with the last kick of the game,” said Pettit, who got two goals from junior star Adriana Salzano in the defeat. “We ran out of steam a little bit and we were hanging on for the last few minutes of extra time with a couple of minutes away from it going to penalties, and they scored again. On the bus going there and from the moment we started warming up, you could see the girls were laser-focused. They really embraced that underdog mentality. We talked a couple of weeks after that game and talked about how do we bring that every weekend. It was a good game.”

A week later, the Panthers brought their A-game, defeating Mount St. Mary’s 5-0 in the Non-Public opener.

“That was bright spot and a little bit of an anomaly on the season,” said Pettit, reflecting on a contest which saw Salzano score two goals with junior Abby Weed chipping in a goal and an assist and senior Kirsten Ruf and freshman Julianna Hartman each adding a goal. “We got a clean sheet and scored quite a lot of goals. It was very comfortable. It was how a few other games should have gone this year, but we just couldn’t consistently get that done. All season long, coach [Seraphine] Hamilton and I were expecting or waiting for it to click. The possession was always good, the defensive shape got better as the season wore on. We stopped giving up goals through individual mistakes. We just needed to find that method of scoring and you hope when that Mount St. Mary’s game happened, you are OK, it was clicked. We felt good about it, we were confident.”

Pettit felt good about his senior group which included Grace Romano, Kirsten Ruf, Beatriz Saldana, and Paris Smith.

“The main two seniors were Grace and Kristen, they were both captains; on the field and off, they really were outstanding,” said Pettit. “They organized a lot of team building, social events, and charity events. They were outstanding in that. On the field, they showed a lot of senior leadership as well. There were games where it was tight or it was frustrating, and they set the standard for the rest. That really started in preseason and carried on throughout. The senior leadership from those two was really good.”

Looking ahead to next fall, Pettit is expecting good leadership from a trio of juniors, Tochi Owunna, Salzano, and Weed.

“I think Dre is going to come out on fire, it is her senior year, her last chance to shine,” said Pettit of Salzano, who led the Panthers with 12 goals this fall. “For people like Dre, this year wasn’t a success with no title. People like Dre, Abby, and Tochi — those are the ones I am really excited to see as seniors next year with the more mature cast around them.”

In addition to that trio of junior standouts, PDS boasts a number of promising young players including freshmen Ella McLaren, Mackenzie Brodel, Emma Burns, Sara Teryek, Ariana Ananthan, and Hartman along with sophomores Sophie Zhou, Reese Overman, Aulani Daniels, and Shelby Ruf.

“We are only really losing two starters, albeit in pivotal positions,” said Pettit. “We know already who we have. There are definitely people waiting in the wings for bigger roles.”

In Pettit’s view, that core of returners has the potential to play for titles.

“There is a lot to build on — 12-7 is an improvement on our record from last year,” said Pettit. “There was lots of growth for the young players and because we are not losing too many seniors, we should be in a stronger position to really make a statement next year. My hope coming in is that we can do that.”